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High Art: Chicago Athenaeum's New Video Celebrates Skyscrapers/Baroque Soccer/Ketchup and Relish, But No Hot Dog/Design Delay

"We're still trying to get across the idea that architecture is an art form," says Christian Laine of the Chicago Athenaeum. He thinks maybe a video will help.

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High Art: Chicago Athenaeum's New Video Celebrates Skyscrapers

Chicago is slowly waking up to the fact that its high-rise architecture is a major educational resource and tourist attraction. But that didn't make it any easier for Christian Laine to produce "New Chicago Skyscrapers," a 30-minute videotape just released for sale to the general public. "We had to beg, scrape, plead, and borrow to get about $30,000 to produce the tape," says Laine, director of the Chicago Athenaeum, a center devoted to educating the public about architecture, art, and urban studies.

The video was originally produced as part of a traveling exhibit of the same name that features some 175 drawings of Chicago high rises built over the last four years--about 80 towers in all. The exhibit, currently in Warsaw, Poland, has been seen in more than ten European and South American cities. The finished video is a somewhat solemn but carefully crafted and informative study of four existing buildings--the familiar green 333 W. Wacker, by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates P.C.; Northwestern Terminal, by Murphy-Jahn; 190 S. LaSalle, by John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson; and the AT&T Corporate Center, by Skidmore Owings & Merrill--and one proposed building, the Miglin-Beitler Tower by Cesar Pelli & Associates, which if ever built would be the world's tallest skyscraper.

Laine shot the tape with Finnish filmmaker Anssi Blomstedt, noted for his work on other architectural documentaries. Laine and Blomstedt have interspersed interior and exterior footage of the chosen buildings with comments from the respective architects and, in a couple of instances, the developers who hired them.

For those interested in taking a closer look at this city's modern architectural riches, Laine and Blomstedt's video serves as a good primer. But Laine continues to wonder whether the city will ever get around to aggressively marketing its architectural wonders. "This administration is beginning to wake up," he says, but it still has a long way to go in developing an effective advertising and promotion campaign that would convey the excitement and beauty of the city's high-rise architecture to potential visitors and the local populace. Part of the problem, Laine says, is that many people have not been educated to understand that modern. architecture is both functional and aesthetic. "We're still trying to get across the idea that architecture is an art form."

Baroque Soccer

On another architectural front, printing powerhouse R.R. Donnelley & Sons has given two late 19th-century mansions in the Prairie Avenue Historic District, Kimball House and Coleman-Ames House, to the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The foundation, in turn, is leasing the two houses, with a combined value of more than $1 million, to the United States Soccer Federation, which is moving its headquarters to Chicago from Colorado Springs later this month. A source said the Soccer Federation was drawn to the baroque splendor of the two houses. The Donnelley family also contributed $100,000 to help restore and maintain the structures.

Ketchup and Relish, But No Hot Dog

North Halsted Street is turning into a haven for some of the city's most talented chefs, several of whom have opted to open their own establishments. Paul LoDuca, late of Carlucci's, recently opened Vinci, and John Terczak has unveiled two places, Chameleon and Ketchup. Another of the promising new restaurants is Ron Blazek's 99-seat Relish, which formally opens this week. The 29-year-old Blazek is the former executive chef at Gordon, and Relish, at 2044 N. Halsted, is the first place he's called all the shots. Blazek and his peers mostly used to work in high-priced environs but now operate more reasonable restaurants. "We're trying to bring good food down to a moderate price," said Blazek.

His menu changes daily and offers entrees that range from around $9 for a Salad Garbo to $14.50 for shitake-glazed tuna. Other dishes include wild salmon, apple-smoked pork, and herbed chicken. One way Blazek keeps his prices down is daily visits to the markets (when he worked for other people he always relied on purveyors). It means longer hours and more work for the chef and his staff, but he insists the extra effort saves money and results in fresher ingredients. Blazek conceded it's much more difficult for a first-time operator like him to open a restaurant than it is for a chain such as Lettuce Entertain You. "You make lots of mistakes they don't make because they've done it so many times."

Design Delay

But even Lettuce Entertain You isn't always sure what it wants. At last month's opening of Maggiano's Italian restaurant and bakery at Clark and Grand, founder Rich Melman said another of his upcoming entries, a Greek eatery called Papagus, has been delayed for several months while he's worked on getting the design concept the way he wants it. Getting the right look required rejecting several designers who had submitted ideas and finally bringing in Pat Culetto from San Francisco. Culetto designed the Fog City Diner in San Francisco and the Buckhead Diner in Atlanta, among other projects. At Papagus, located in the Embassy Suites Hotel at 620 N. State and scheduled to open January 14, Culetto will use stone walls, tile floors, arched ceilings, and lots of bleached wood. Papagus will bring to eight the number of restaurants Lettuce Entertain You operates in River North. Melman said his restaurants have been affected by the slump in dining out, but not as much as some. "I think the top 100 restaurants in the city will always do OK," said Melman; he also thinks the recession could continue to affect the restaurant business for another 12 to 18 months.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Steven D. Arazmus.

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